It was though they knew we were coming. A string of shiny-and matte-finished 2012 BMW M6
convertibles on their way from Santa Barbara to CA-33, also affectionately known as the Pistachio Road, had the California Highway Patrol (CHiPs) quickly trying to fill in the holes of the Golden State's budget deficit.
We at Leftlane
managed to escape with our wallets intact. The same can't be said for some of our motoring brethren.
But a day behind the wheel of BMW's new uber-grand tourer is worth the stress. Now where did I leave my Valentine 1? (The next best thing to a diplomatic passport.)
Now in its third generation, the M6, available as both a coupe and in the case of our test car, a convertible, makes its first appearance in over two years. The convertible will arrive in dealer showrooms in June 2012 as a short run 2012 model, while the coupe will arrive in late summer as a 2013 offering. Not for the faint of wallet, the entry to this club starts with a base price of $113,995, which includes an $895 destination fee. Pluckiness on the part of your local dealer may push the price further north.
The basis for the M6 Convertible is the famously received BMW 6-Series
convertible. Long a favorite of the coastal sunbelt set, BMW will only say that it "slightly "beats the coupe in sales numbers. Incidentally, buyers on the old continent aren't much for convertibles, as the U.S. is the main market for those who prefer to go topless.
Eschewing the 5.0-liter V10 engine that powered the previous M5 and M6 models, the new M6 draws its motivation from the 4.4-liter M TwinPower Turbo Technology (whew!) V8 first seen in the X5M and X6M high-performance crossovers. Using a design known internally as S63TÃ¼, this direct-injection engine makes 560-horsepower at 5,750-7,000 rpm. Twist, in the form of 500 lb-ft comes on at 1,500 and continues up through 5,750 rpm. BMW is claiming that the power is 10 percent higher and torque is now upwards of 30 percent greater than found in the previous V10. The added oomph presents a power band that is almost three times as wide as that found in the larger package.
Using a reverse-flow protocol, BMW has placed the fuel delivery systems on the outsides of the cylinders while the twin turbochargers rest in the valley between cylinder heads. As seen in the X6M, it allows for a much more compact package under hood. This, combined with a cross-bank exhaust manifold and other features help to nearly eliminate turbo lag that is usually found in more conventional systems
With the previous M6, owners would dial-in the full 505 horsepower using the BMW iDrive controller. It was a wink and a nod
manner that enabled the company to skirt a few environmental regulations and allowed the vehicle's individual owners a chance to up the power on their own. Think of it as power-chipping on demand. Except with the new V8 engine, such sleight-of-hand is no longer required. Instead, owners can achieve EPA estimates of 14/20 mpg, with a combined 16 mpg between fill-ups.
Power gets to the pavement through a seven-speed M-Double Clutch transmission with BMW'sDrivelogic. Able to function as an automatic (D) or a clutch pedal-less manual (S) transmission, it is controlled either by a sequential shift function of the shift lever or by steering wheel-mounted paddle shift levers. Regardless, shifting occurs with a satisfying pop that supplies an emotional high while tapping through the gears.
The Drivelogic portion of the gearbox tailors selection according to the drive style. D1 is for basic driving, followed by D2 for laid back cruising. D3 is more performance oriented, and we found it typically holds gears longer until the revs climb to a sufficient rate of speed. Conversely, S1 offers standard gear changes while S2 offers the gear pops we mentioned above. S3 is optimum for track usage and enables a launch control function.
BMW's version of electro-hydraulic dampers finds its way into the kit of the M6. Using what the company calls, Dynamic Damper Control, the M6 tailors its ride quality to the driver's wish. Available in three modes, ranging from Comfort to Sport to Sport Plus, the ride can go from plush to ultra firm with the touch of a button. The same parameters can be dialed in for steering as well.
An adjustable M-specific suspension kit is also part of this package and includes a rear axle subframe and dynamically mounted axles with specially tuned axle kinematics make for a suspension that BMW claims is actually faster
than its engine.
Speaking of fast, the M6 Convertible will sprint from 0-60 mph in just 4.2 seconds before topping out at an electronically-limited 155 mph.
Decidedly avant-garde in design, the interior is well equipped with new, modern looks including M6-specific leather seats with adjustable bolsters and thigh supports. Active head restraints are along for the ride as a deterrent to whiplash. The haute theme continues throughout the cockpit with leather trim and carbon fiber panels on the dashboard and door panels.
A pair of rear seats is on offer, although they aren't habitable for very long. The passenger seat can move forward to offer a bit of legroom, but occupants behind the driver may not be as lucky.
The 10.2-inch LCD display is in place for operation of the iDrive controls that manipulate the climate, Bluetooth, navigation and audio systems. Canted toward the driver, it clearly lets passengers know who is the captain of this ship.
A pair of configurable M buttons are on the left spoke of the M6's wheel. BMW likens them to "mood switches" because of how they allow drivers to tailor hundreds of settings or preferences to a particular driver's liking. Everything from M-Drive dynamics controls including steering, throttle, damper behavior, to Drivelogic transmission settings, and changes with the head-up display to full-blown M tachometer and gear position displays can be changed. You can even change the mode of the traction control system from trainer to fully functional to off.
They are both user programmable so that one can be set, for example, as a daily drive comfort mode, with Eco-Pro activated, while the other can be set for full-on performance or track settings. The car always defaults to the most efficient and comfortable setting.
Our time behind the wheel showed, once again, how BMW grabbed the mantra of the ultimate driving machine and still manages to run with it all these years later. No high tech is needed. Well, to be totally truthful, the whole car is beefed up electronically, but there is no torque vectoring on these cars as we have seen in many other vehicles today. Instead, electronic control of the differential, which can variably lock up the rear axle from zero to 100-percent depending on traction needs, takes over for that, monitoring the torque demands from the gas pedal.
Power can be placed at a higher limit than before especially when turning. For instance, when approaching a turn, tapping the brake then accelerating causes the system to watch steering angle, side loading, yaw rate and pedal positions, and when needed, it can digitally unlock the rear axle sides from each other so that the inside axle in a turn can rotate faster, making the turn quicker. According to BMW, it's a wet clutch system built into the differential. During spirited driving on Pistachio Road in Southern California's twisties, it felt as though the car's pivot point for turning left and right had been moved behind the rear axle, resulting in a more lively turn-in.
Power gushed forward with a squeeze of the accelerator. The two TwinPower turbos were already spinning quickly enough to eliminate any sense of turbo-lag and had us quickly outgunning oncoming traffic and the occasional lookie-loo-ladened minivan taking in all of SoCal's agricultural glory.
Getting on the gas occasionally meant that after a while you were going to need to get on the brakes, too.
Fortunately, we did just in time to spot a radar gun-toting Park Ranger in a California Dept. of Forestry pickup truck. For him, on this stretch of Pistachio Road, there would be no joy today.
Leftlane's bottom line
After a two-year hiatus at the spa, the M6 returns, this time more agile, lighter, and more powerful than ever.
Few owners will ever take this brute to its limits, either on or off the track, but it's good feeling to know the potential is there.
2012 BMW M6 Convertible
base price, $113,995.
Words and photos by Mark Elias.